JAMESTOWN, N.D.-Payton Richter will undoubtedly never forget hitting the first home run of her life.
The Central Cass junior led off the championship game of the North Dakota Class B state softball tournament with a solo shot to left field Saturday at Trapper Field. It was the first of many runs and jolted Central Cass to its third state title in the sport with an 11-0 victory against Des Lacs-Burlington-Lewis & Clark in five innings.
"That really wasn't the plan, but I was just looking for my pitch," said Richter, who sent the second pitch of the ball game thrown by the Lakers pitcher Erica Hermanson into the area designated for lawn chairs. "It's my job as leadoff to put the ball in play. It feels amazing."
Richter's first career homer was wind-aided, but nobody in the Central Cass dugout would mind. The tournament's final day was plagued by 30 mph gusts blowing out to left.
"She'd been so close all year, so I'm really proud of her to finally hit one out," said Central Cass junior pitcher Lexi Buhr, who struck out eight and earned the two-hit shutout victory in the circle. "It feels good to get a cushion right away with Payton hitting one out."
The Squirrels scored a run in each of the first two innings before kicking down the door in the bottom of the third. Central Cass sent 14 batters to the plate and scored eight runs-all unearned-on four hits and three Lakers errors.
Richter walked twice, sophomore catcher Isabelle Linnard cranked a two-run homer into the jet stream in left and sophomore Kaitlyn Houle connected for an RBI single in the decisive frame.
Central Cass chased sophomore Hermanson out of the circle after just 2 2/3 innings pitched in an 8-0 game. It was the first time Lakers coach Mel Erickson had ever had to go get his all-state pitcher, who had recorded 28 strikeouts in the first two games of the tournament.
"It started snowballing on her right from the start," Erickson said. "That's part of the game. We didn't come ready to play."
The Lakers (18-2) earned the distinction of becoming the first West Region team to reach the state title game after placing sixth in 2016 and third in 2017.
"We'll be back," Erickson said.
Central Cass (21-2) was playing in its sixth state title game in seven seasons, having won championships in 2013 and 2015.
"This is a momentum game, and once we got things going we were able to keep it going," Central Cass coach Scott Kost said. "(Hermanson's) a great pitcher and I wouldn't take anything away from them because they're a very good team and had a great season.
"We just had a really, really good day today."
Central Cass never lacked motivation this spring after losing last year's state championship 1-0 to Kindred-Richland. Kost said experiencing that feeling a second time in as many seasons wasn't an option.
"We talked about that game and what that feels like, and we didn't want that to happen again," Kost said. "So it kind of motivated us to work hard all year long, and it helped in every single practice to make sure that we were doing the things we needed to do to stay out on top."
DL 000 00--0 2 4
CC 118 1x--11 6 1
Erica Hermanson, Brooklyn Benno (3) and Brynley Benno. Lexi Buhr and Isabelle Linnard. W--Buhr. L--Hermanson. HR--CC, Richter, Linnard.
Class B awards
Senior athlete of the year: Theresa Klinnert, Kindred-Richland
Coach of the year: Kendra Schillo, Heart River